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Saturday, December 30, 2017

My 2017 Inspiration Awards

 Welcome to my fourth year of presenting to you my "inspiration awards," dedicated to the acknowledgment of all people and moments that warmed my heart and touched my soul during the past year. Modeled after Barbara Walters long-standing end of the year show, "10 Most Fascinating People," my post at the end of every calendar year reveals the stories and people in 2017 who bettered the world by their actions. 

I hope you are inspired too...

Most Inspirational Service Member Award

 This year, I am presenting this award to a group of people instead of one individual. TEAM RUBICON was started in 2010 by two marines who heard about the devastating earthquake in Haiti and gathered a few of their veteran friends to go down to aid in the disaster relief. The small group used their military training to provide assistance for people that the larger aid organizations were unable to reach initially. From this small group of volunteers, a much larger organization has been born that has since provided relief for many other locations in need of disaster relief. Most recently, TEAM RUBICON sent several groups down to help in the relief efforts in Texas following Hurricane Harvey. I want to recognize these amazing people who have continued to serve our nation and the world long after their military service has ended. Both those who have directly benefited from TEAM RUBICON'S efforts and those of us who observe their efforts from afar owe this organization a tremendous debt of gratitude for their selfless actions. 

Courage Award

  U.S. Army Captain Florent Groberg has one of the most compelling stories I have heard this year. He was born in France to an American father and a French-Algerian mother and became a naturalized citizen in 2001. He didn't learn to speak English until he was 11 years old. When he joined the Army in 2008, he renounced his French citizenship entirely. In August 2012, he was severely injured while attempting to thwart the efforts of a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Even though there were several military personnel and others who either lost their life or were seriously injured in the incident, Groberg's actions prevented a much more tragic loss of life. In the video above, he describes the incident to tv talk show host, Stephen Colbert. In recognition of his bravery, Groberg was presented just over two years ago with the Medal of Honor. He has recently written a fascinating book about his military experiences titled, 8 Seconds of Courage: A Soldier's Story From Immigrant to the Medal of Honor. For his courageous actions, Capt. Florent Groberg is my 2017 recipient of the Courage Award. Thank you, sir, for your service! 

Perseverance Award

 My 2017 Perseverance Award goes to a group of college baseball players who showed great heart and grit this past summer in the face of tremendous challenges. The summer baseball league team I work for, the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks, had just about every possible setback happen to them all season long...from injuries to personal problems, a minor car accident, a medical emergency that sent one of their pitchers to the hospital during a game, the draft taking one of the team's best players they were counting on...the list seemed endless. This group endured the first two weeks of their season down a third of the team due to college tournament play and ended their season in much the same way due to all of these unplanned issues. Out of 25 players declared on the team roster, only 19 of them remained in Alaska at the end of the season, and only 15 of those 19 were healthy. Guys were gutting out games in which they played through injuries, knowing the team couldn't make it without them. As I watched players do double-duty, players taking on entirely different positions and roles that normal, shouldering leadership and responsibility far beyond their regular requirement, I was touched and inspired. They produced comeback after comeback during the year and, in spite of all these distractions and hardships thrown at them, they only missed the playoffs by a game. It's always great to win games, but this season produced a far greater victory than will go down in the numbers. These guys stuck together through one of the worst seasons our team has ever had, and they continued to go out on the field, game after game, against teams that were completely healthy and their rosters were full. Each win seemed monumental because it took so much to earn it each time. These guys deserve respect and commendation for the fortitude they showed in the face of such odds this last season and, for that, I am proud to recognize them as my 2017 recipients of the Perseverance Award. Thank you Chinooks for competing with selfless attitudes and for sticking together through so much! 

Sportsman Of The Year

 Many of you won't be surprised at my selection for this year's Sportsman of the Year award. He is an NFL superstar who has probably become more well-known for his actions off the field than for any accomplishment in his storied career. He's never been to a Super Bowl but, far more importantly, he holds the love and respect of his community. 

JJ Watt has long been regarded as a tremendous humanitarian and selfless resident of the Houston area. Every since this Wisconsin-raised young man was drafted by the Texans in 2011, he embraced his new "home" and its people. Many stories have surfaced over the years of him building friendships and reaching out to those in need around the area, but in 2017 he distinguished himself in a way that many could never have predicated. 

When Hurricane Harvey hit the greater Houston area in August, the Texans (and the Houston Astros baseball team) were out of the area playing road games. Worried about their loved ones and property back in Houston, the players were doing all that they could to keep tabs on the storm and its progress. When the flood waters and the rain had subsided a bit, the team returned to the area and began to pitch in to help with the disaster relief efforts in the local area. But, to simply lend a hand, wasn't enough for JJ Watt. He turned to social media and asked generous souls to help financially by giving to a donation page he had set up. His goal was to raise $250,000 and he would match the amount...just to give some assistant to the local people because he knew it would months, years even, to rebuild some parts of the city. Every dollar would help, he said. 

As the money began to pour in, JJ threw himself into using the money to go directly to those in need. Making use of a storage facility, he ensured that water, food, and basic provisions were given to the victims of the hurricane. Weeks later, what initially started as a simple request for $250,00 had turned in a grand total of 37 million! People's generosity had gone eons beyond where JJ had ever intended. He was humbled. And grateful. Because he knew how much every dollar would help. He then recognized that such giving would now enable him to do way more than just provide the needy with basics. He has since begun using the funds to remodel damaged homes for those affected by the devastation, and several people were able to return to their fixed-up houses by Christmas thanks to his efforts. JJ has also battled some adversity of his own, having torn his ACL early in the NFL season, but he has used the extra time granted him by his recovery to take care of his Houston family at large and to do way more than any game-saving tackle could offer him. For his compassion and his tireless efforts to rebuild the city of Houston, I am pleased to resent the 2017 Sportsman of the Year award to JJ Watt of the Houston Texans. Thank you for inspiring us all this year by your unselfishness and your support!

Also in Honorable Mention for this award this year, I want to recognize a couple of amazing acts of sportsmanship that I witnessed in the past few months...
First of all, I want to recognize Argentinian professional tennis player, Juan Martin Del Potro, for his sincere compassion and caring when his opponent at the French Open, Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, went down with a knee injury mid-way through their match. Almagro had been nursing a gimpy knee for a few weeks but was immobilized with pain part-way through the match and could not continue. Bent over in obvious distress, Alamgro eventually collapsed in pain on the court. The first person over to him was Del Potro who himself has had to overcome some serious injuries in his career. It was a touching moment as Del Potro consoled Alamagro. Moments later, Alamagro would retire from the match. Even after that, Del Potro went over to sit with him and offer comfort. Watch the video clip below to witness this amazing act of caring...

I also want to commend a young marathoner who assisted a fading competitor in a recent race and made sure that he got across the line ahead of himself and received the medical attention he needed...

Thank you to both of these compassionate individuals for assisting others and thinking of their competitors more than themselves! 

Team Of The Year

 This year's Team of the Year recipients have been well-documented in recent weeks for their unashamed spiritual stance and their boldness to challenge the political correctness of today in sharing candidly about their faith. Sports commentators have been unable to escape the sincerity of the Philadelphia Eagles and the spiritual awakening that has taken place on their team this year. Led by such players as Carson Wentz, Trey Burton, Chris Maragos, Nick Foles, and others, there have been revival of prayer, Bible studying, testimony-sharing, and much more within their locker room. One player even went so far as to donate his entire 2017 salary to charity and not make a dime off of it this year! God has moved in tremendous ways both among and through these players. For their willingness to take a public stand for their faith, I am proud to present to them the 2017 Team of the Year award! 

Singer Of The Year

 Ryan Stevenson was by far my most inspiring music artist of 2017! I stumbled on his music kind of by accident but soon became hooked on his tremendous message of hope in the Jesus Christ. His catchy, pop-style tunes became a staple for me and carried me through some hard moments during the year. His Christian chart-topping hit "The Gospel" was among my favorites over the course of the year. For his theologically-sound and down-to-earth message of surrender to God's plan, Ryan is my 2017 Singer of the Year recipient. Thank you, Ryan, for glorifying Jesus with your talent and for helping to make the world a better place!

Book Of The Year

 Several months ago, I came across this book thanks to the author being a social media follower of mine. I purchased a copy and started reading in this last Fall. A few pages in and I knew this book was about to change my life and my Christian walk forever. I've been a long-time fan of John Newton's writings, but this provided a wonderful analysis of some of the main talking points in Newton's letters. It was a convicting reminder to me of my identity in the Lord and of the simple fact that Christ is an all-sufficient Savior. I would highly recommend this book to any Christian desiring to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and to learn more about themselves. I am actually on my second read of the book at this time and know that it will prove a valuable read to you! 

Movie Of The Year

 Until recently, I had not yet decided upon what my selection would be for Movie of the Year. But then I watched "A Joyous Christmas." It is the story of a young motivational speaker who is back in her hometown over the holidays for a special event at which she is scheduled to speak. She meets a lady named Joy and a caring friend named Jack who turn the young lady's world upside down. It is a beautiful story of what defines true success in life. Without giving away much of the story, I will tell you that it is well worth your viewing. Congratulations to the cast and producers of "A Joyous Christmas!" You are my 2017 Movie of the Year recipients! 

Song Of The Year

 Over the course of this last year, I felt myself being called into hard things time and again. God asking big faith of me. Asking brave of me. Asking me to let go of my own desires, my own feelings, my own understanding and to simply live my life for Him with open hands. To want His will over mine. This song by Christian artist Colton Dixon became a song I returned to over and over as I prayed to God,
"More of You, less of me,
Make me who I'm meant to be;
You're all I want, all I need,
You're everything.
Take it all; I surrender; 
Be my King!
God, I choose more of You
And less of me..."
This is a prayer I hope to carry into the new year with me - that this life I hold so close I would be willing to let it go, to refuse to gain the world and lose my soul over things that don't matter to God. To be willing to let Him have it all because the only thing I really need is more of Him, and less of me! 

Thank you for taking the time to look over my list of inspiring people, moments, and things from 2017. It is always something I look forward to as the year draws to a reflect on the experiences and people who helped shape me and who inspired me to be more. So let the new year roll in...and the list for 2018 begin! Let's keep on being inspired! 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Quote of the Day

"There are giants of the faith that look like victims in the eyes of the world, but are victors in the eyes of Heaven. Giants of the faith are simply the ones who commit to giving every small thing to God...You always have options. Either the hard things help you turn more toward Him - or the hard things make you grow more bitter toward Him. You can choose to be bitter. Or you can choose to be Beloved. You can choose to grow angry. Or you can choose to grow more in love. Wilderness can be where God woos you and floods can be where you sink into the expanse of His love."
     - Ann Voskamp

Thursday, December 28, 2017

How This Year Changed Me

 2017 will go down as one of the most profound years of my life...because it changed me. Now, I get that every year should find us growing into better people and becoming closer to Jesus but, somehow, this year was different for me. This post is my feeble attempt to share with you why...

This year made me more honest - So many experiences this year forced me into becoming more open about my life. Compared to years prior, I went into 2017 feeling like openness was becoming a way of life for me...I mean, I wasn't hiding anything. But a conversation in late May with a close friend revealed that wasn't the case. He challenged me to start letting love in, to begin to live as though I had nothing to be afraid of and nothing to lose. To start serving God with abandon, no matter the cost. And that challenge forever altered my future. I began to see that honesty may hurt sometimes, but it will always be worth the price. I have since found myself having to have some hard conversations with others, having to speak up for my beliefs and convictions and yet looking to God for the courage to say what needed to be said. Honesty means you're not ashamed of who you are or where you stand. You live life openly. And this year, I've started to feel what that's like. 

This year made me more unafraid - I've known for awhile that fear has run my life for most of my life. And I've tried to get real about it. But this year was a turning point. A few brave friends demonstrated their love to me in ways I'll never be able to fully grasp or repay, and that wrecked me in the best way possible. Early in the summer, I was hit by the realization that fear was a barrier between me and those around me. I was afraid of being fully known because I was afraid to be fully loved. I had let people in to a point, but then I would keep them out. Because I was afraid people who said they cared would end up leaving. It had happened many times before...and all I was left with were empty promises and questions that never got answered. And so the best way I could think of to cope was to live guarded. To stay distant. To not let others in too close. Just on the off-chance... I learned not to trust. But then came along some special people who didn't promise me anything regarding our friendship - they just lived out their love. They just showed me that I could trust them. Always. With anything. And when I kept on holding back, they finally addressed my fear and showed me they loved me for who I am but care too much to let me stay that way. This emboldened me to start facing life unafraid. To live large. To open the heart to those who are truly your friends. 

This year made me notice who my real friends are - Because I began to live life loved, I began to see what real friendship looks like. As I saw friends demonstrate love by their timely prayers, words of wisdom, acts of caring (even when unasked)...all these things added up so that I started to see that real friends don't always tell you how they intend to impact your life. They don't promise you they'll be there forever. But they show you day in and day out that they love you. Just for you. Just as you are. Flaws and all. And they show you by their own living that they want you to become better. They aren't afraid to get involved in your messy...because the Jesus they serve isn't afraid to get involved in their own messy. They love like Jesus loves. They are His hands and feet. And this distinction for me between those who are your acquaintances versus your friends and then your lifers, has allowed me to have an open heart and open hand regarding who is meant to be in my life. If they aren't meant to stay, then it's okay to let them go. To free them to move on. Those who truly love you will never leave. No matter how hard it gets. 

This year made me accept hard things - I've had to accept some hard things this year: three friends from years past committing suicide, a friend dying from cancer, another friend being diagnosed as "terminal" with an incurable cancer, friends moving...and then a job change, a long-lost relative entering my life for the first many things that can make one wonder whose in control! But through it all, God has dealt patiently with this fearful one and made me realize that even the hard things are His blessings in disguise for what they teach us about ourselves and how they cause us to depend on Him. I've had to learn to not hold on so tightly. To let go when God says to. To not control life so fiercely but to trust more deeply. To appreciate the unchangables in my life and to keep on saying "yes" to Jesus - even when it hurts.

This year made me slow down - For the last few years, work and other responsibilities forced me into living life in the fast lane. As much as I tried to separate everything, I began to live the business-world life: always focused on the next deadline, always chasing the next goal, always on the run. And I began to lose me. I began to miss the miracles. I began to cease noticing the blessings. And I began to live un-thankful. Late this year, some changes in my job and re-focusing on my part in my spiritual life allowed me to regain my perspective and, for that, I am eternally grateful. I'm determined never to let my life get that way again. I felt like I missed so much. 

There is so much more I could list, but these are the main things that impacted me personally in 2017. I'd love to hear how this year changed you, as well. Heading into a new year with this perspective on the old, lets keep on trusting God to build on what He started in us this past 12 months and get excited for all the ways He'll do even more in 2018!! 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Living the Light

 One of the things I love about the holidays is that you notice things you're often going too quickly to see during the rest of the year. It's as if our eyes are open in a special way - opened by the One who came to open us. 
 As I drove to a Christmas Eve service about an hour's drive away, I was breath-taken by something I saw along the way: right at a highway intersection, off in middle of an open field, some joy-inspired soul had decorated one lone Christmas tree...all by itself. It was lit up with hundreds of twinkling lights, casting colors and beauty across the frozen snow. I felt tears coming to my person, filled with the spirit of the season, took the time to give hope. To share light to a dark world. And then it hit my heart...
 This. This is what I want. Not just at Christmas, but all year through: I want to be among those who stand alone as pure light. Light reflecting from within. Dark being pierced. And a dark night it was too - it's winter in the Arctic. And the days feel long here. Daylight is minimal. Nights are long. So too, the winters of the soul. 
 As I drove to the service, took in the music there, lit my one candle and sang "Silent Night," I thought of that tree. And of the many people whose hearts are cold this time of  year. There is no light they can see anywhere. The dark has set in deep for them. They look for hope. They seek the One come to save us all, but it is too dark for them to find Him.  
 Driving home, I passed that tree once again. I made a point to slow down a bit and fix that image in my memory. I cannot change or fix the sorrow of this world, but I can be willing to be placed in the places most needing light. His light. I can make the daily choice to live the Light - even if I must shine alone. And, perhaps, by that light, some soul in need of Jesus will be shown the way. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"...You only really believe in Christmas when you really live it. When you light a dark world and the unexpected places with a brave flame of joy; when you warm the cold, hopeless places with the daring joy that God is with us, God is for us, God is in us; when you are a wick to light hope in the dark - then you believe in Christmas. When you really believe in Christmas, you believe there is really hope for everyone. When you get Christmas, people get hope from you - they don't lose it...And you can see it, with every lit candle, sparks of the dawning. Hope catching on everything."
               - Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"When God touches earth, the place is holy. When God appears in history, the time is holy. There was never a more holy place than the city of Bethlehem, where the Word became flesh. There was never a more holy time than Christmas morning when Emmanuel was born."
               - R. C. Sproul

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the dream that the Child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us."
                     - Frederick Buechner

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Soldier's Wish

 Let's remember all those who are deployed and away from their families and homes this Christmas. Today, I share with you a poem that I wrote many years ago in their honor...

A Soldier's Wish

A Christmastime, the heart goes home,
And loved ones father near
To celebrate the season's joy
With friends who are so dear.
But this year, I won't be there
'Cuz my duty's called me here;
There's no snow or sounds of Christmas
To gently soothe my ear;
But I have plans to travel home,
Though not by plane or car -
I am going home for Christmas
Though, from friends, I am so far.
I will still be there in spirit,
Far away as it might seem;
I am going home for Christmas
If only in a dream.

There will be no pie, no Christmas tree,
No sounds of Christmas mirth,
No gaiety or creche displayed
To honor Jesus' birth.
But, in my heart, I've made a place
For Christ to feel at home,
Though I'm always on my gun
And have so far to roam.
I am treasuring the memories,
Though, from them, I'm apart;
I am going home for Christmas
If only in my heart.

Though we are separated, friends,
Go on and toast the season,
For I'll be there, and this we know,
That Jesus is the reason.
I'll hear your songs, your laughter too,
And in my heart I'll say,
"I am going home for Christmas,
Though I'm miles far away."

* copyright 2005 Katherine Singer

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity - hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory - because at the Father's will, Jesus Christ became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later, He might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message the world has ever heard, or will hear...The 'Christmas spirit'...ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of Him who, for our sakes, because poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all year round."
                - J.I. Packer

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Miracles

 I sat at the church Christmas party and gazed at the face of the little baby sitting next to me. He was hanging out restfully on the lap of a lady who has no children. I was witnessing a miracle. This child has faced death since before he was born. His parents found out while he was still in the womb that his heart was broken. He would face surgeries, endless doctors appointments, and years of medical intervention - all with the hope of his living his one little life well. His smile broke through my own heart. My own heart that had been carrying sad-weight all day: impending death, everything change, the predictable being turned upside down. I looked around the room: the woman who can't have children, the baby whose every beat is a miracle, the lady who is facing her parents' declining health, and me who was everything un-Christmas joy that day. I stared up at the tree. And don't we all have broken hearts that need mending? 
 Christmas miracles - Jesus miracles - aren't just for those who need money, a medical healing, a renewal of hope, a relationship, every one of us is in need of a Savior who will step into our mess and give us redemption. Every soul is carrying around a certain weight: doubt, fear, uncertainty, pain, shame, suffering, bitterness, rejection...and so our hearts form cracks, broken-places that need mending. That baby signifies what we only feel in the emotional. And still, the message somehow still speaks that God isn't done with us all yet. I take in the twinkling lights and breath deep, while feeling the thaw in my soul-spirit of that little baby's smile. A smile that says that life is still going on even though all is not right. That with every heart-beat, God is still sustaining this fallen world. Sustaining us. 
 When you think about it, every one of us is a Christmas miracle...because the God who stepped into human time and place set forth a redeeming plan to rescue your soul! Your one broken heart!! God became man, while never setting aside His Godhead, so that you could have a reason for all your hurting. So that our pain would never be wasted in this world. So that we could be healed by love. So that all our living would matter and we could be saved. 
 I feel the other heavy-hearts in the room, even as we set aside our difficulties to eat, celebrate, and converse. I know our shared suffering is there. My church has had a hard year. And yet, the message of God's Son come down and later risen to glory is what has kept us believing. Kept all of us saying "yes" to Him when everything inside has screamed "no." And so laugh...we trust...we thank. Because His promise of re-making all of us, of healing us, is still going on. And all our struggles are mere birthing pains to a greater purpose He has in mind. 
 The baby looks over towards me and flashes his precious little grin. I stroke his tiny hand and think: God was once like this little child - because He loved us! Tears fill my eyes and I bless God that He's still using children, even one with a broken heart, to teach me what really matters in this life. May my eyes be open, my heart be broken, my soul believe so that the miracle of Jesus might, once again, be born inside of me! That his broken heart may keep on praising, even when the days are hard. Because His miracle is for all the year...for all of time...and not just at Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself. The message of Christmas is that this world's a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and we need a Messiah. For unto us a Child is born."
          - Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift

Monday, December 18, 2017

Belonging...And Why We Need It

 I want to start off my post today by telling you a story...
Many, many years ago there was a little girl who lived with her mom and dad. At a young age, her parents separated, and she went to live with her mother. She hardly saw her dad in the years that followed - maybe a couple of times - and hardly had any contact with his side of the family. Her grandmother on her father's side still kept in touch, and she saw her aunt a couple of times, but that was pretty much it. After she grew up, she ended up living in Alaska for awhile, just hours from where her aunt lived, but things never worked out for them to see each other. She was aware that her aunt had a daughter and that this daughter was her cousin, but they never met each other. Never even so much as spoke on the phone or wrote a letter. A few years after grandma died, she ended up moving out of Alaska. But just this year, God began to move in the family - this now-grown-up woman was put back in touch with her father's side of the family thanks to urging of another relative, and she reached out to her aunt (and eventually her cousin for the first time). A relationship began to form between then - letters were exchanged and phone calls occurred relatively frequently. It was like a live edition of the TLC tv series "Long Lost Family." This woman finally was finding that love she'd always sought. She was finally feeling that she belonged. Like she was part of something. Like she mattered to somebody. And the story is continuing to unfold...
 Without further adieu, I will happily reveal that the woman in this story is my long-lost cousin. And I am part of the family of hers that lives in Alaska. (As you will notice, I have left out the names of those involved in this story in order to protect them). I have heard of her my entire life but had given up hope that I'd ever meet her or get to know her personally. But I've loved her all my life even though I'd never met her. I always wanted her to feel like she belonged in my life and heart. 
 I tell you all this to give you a peak into the fact that my family isn't perfect. I still have a relative that I have not spoken to in years because of the tension they created in the family. I'm just now getting to know this cousin who has been out of my life entirely. I have relatives whose marriages didn't work out, relatives who have struggled financially all their lives to make ends meet, relatives who have had difficulty having children. My world isn't ideal. But neither is anyone else's. And this brings me to the fact that we are all on a quest in our hearts to belong. 
 We all want to feel like we are part of something. We are born with a desire to fit in, to feel like we are loved and accepted for who we are (even with all our flaws), to feel as if we matter to someone in this big world. Over the past few months, this recent development in my family's life has gotten me to thinking about the idea of belonging. That from the point of creation and the beginning of human history, human beings have been seeking a place of relevance and meaning. As a Christian, I realize that most of the time we humans have searched for that meaning in all the wrong places, but it does reveal that we have this innate sense of desire to be part of something more than just ourselves.  I've longed to give others this place of belonging in my life as a friend, to show them the love that I receive on a daily basis from my Jesus...because I've had my share of times when I failed to notice what I really was a part of in the family of God. I've felt alone when I should've seen that I was really alone after all. God, forgive me for my failure to see such truth! And I've since spent much time in trying my best to create a safe place for others to deposit their hurts, for wounds to be healed, for love to take place. For belonging to happen. Because this is the greatest need of our world today.  
 If you think about it, most of the tragedies that happen - shootings, wars, wars of words, family estrangement, divorce, abuse - it all comes back to a failure in love. Either a failure to love properly, or a failure to accept and feel loved properly. This is where we Christians can provide an answer. An answer found in the unconditional and radical love of the Savior whose birth and subsequent deliverance to us we are celebrating this time of year. 
 It's Christmas. And we are each celebrating in our own way. But this year, I'm celebrating in a different spirit than in times past. I have gained something I'd thought I'd never find. I have a cousin! And I can't get over how much I love this person I've never met before! I can't believe just how much my heart overflows with care for somebody that's only been a name to me my entire life. The upcoming year is filled with possibility, and I am excited to see where God continues to take this story. I feel redemption happening. That this story that began with such hardship just might be turned into good. That healing can take place. That love can have the final word. And just maybe, my cousin may meet Jesus in the process. 
 I watch the feel-good stories of the Hallmark movies: families coming together, all things bright, merry, and happy endings. And somehow I feel that love has touched this family of mine in a special way this year. I never would've guessed that this Christmas my heart could be so full. But it is. Because God never gives up on the stories we often wrongly write off as being "too far gone." God is still the business of going to great lengths to mend broken things...even a broken heart. And, in so doing, He continues His mission of calling the orphaned ones who are told they don't belong and giving them a family they discover they've always wanted. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"Our God who breathes stars in the dark - He breathes Bethlehem's Star, then takes on lungs and breathes in stable air. We are saved from hopelessness because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the iron-sharp edge of our sins...Our God who cradles whole inkling galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain - He folds Himself into our skin, and He uncurls His newborn fingers in the cradle of a barn feeding trough...and we are saved from ourselves."
        - Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"How I shall I fitly meet Thee,
And give Thee welcome due?
The nations long to greet Thee,
And I would greet Thee too.
O Fount of Light, shine brightly
Upon my darkened heart,
That I may serve Thee rightly
And know Thee as Thou art."
- Johann Sebastian Bach

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How We Can Change How the World Sees Christmas

 I continue to hear the complaints over and over again...people refusing to celebrate Christmas, boycotting one of the two most important holidays of the year because it's all getting to be too much. Too much commercialism, too much focus on Santa Claus, too much spending, too many carols playing too early in the year, that it's not really the actual birthday of Jesus, that's it's become about all things except the real thing...its. just. overwhelming. And just like that, Jesus seems to be lost. Lost in the hustle and bustle of all things holiday, and the Lord Himself appears to be forgotten. The meaning of Christmas stolen by secularists and retailers. Left to only the religious to remember. 
 I stare at the Christmas tree and the decorations all around. Is this what some people are left to believe? That one cannot participate in Christmas because Christmas is out of control? That taking away Christmas is the way to fix what's broken about it? My heart is heavy...and I think I know why. 
 I think I know because I think I understand how one can blame something as wonderful as Christmas for all things chaotic and ruined when it's not the fault of that thing at all. Christmas isn't the problem. What fallen humanity has done to Christmas IS! Christmas itself and it's most reverent meaning hasn't changed. How we as residents of this crazy world see it has changed and that's the real issue. We no longer view Christmas as the sacred time of remembrance that it once was intended to be. Oh, we sing the songs, we decorate, we still gather with family and friends, we bake cookies, we go to special church services...but is all this out of mere tradition? If we were to seriously look at what we've made this season out to be, we should honestly be ashamed of what we've turned it into. Starting with Black Friday, we blow past Thanksgiving and are onto buying for Christmas the very day after we've all supposedly counted our blessings. After we've theoretically reflected on how grateful we are, we turn right around and push into stores with money flowing out of our pockets so we can simply grab a good deal. And that's how we start out our Christmas season. We rush around from one even to the next, checking stuff off our to-do list...eventually ending up on December 25th with a pile of gifts, and the love of family. But where did the Savior end up in all this? God forgive us...we left Him out. 
 Yes, maybe we did sing the carols about His birth, but did we pause to think of the great anticipation of His coming to Bethlehem? Did we consider the lostness of our sinful condition through Adam and why we needed saving? Did we even take time to begin to grasp the history-altering event that took place in that manger-birth? Because there is so much more to Christmas than traditions and celebration. I'm all for the rejoicing and the decorating and the happiness. But I think God wants us to "do Christmas" differently. 
 This year, I've taken a different approach. Thanks to the reading of two inspiring books, I've been determined to see Christ through the carols, to experience Jesus in my traditions. To leave the wildness of the season for a more peaceful and God-centered way. For starters, I did most of my Christmas shopping in October so that I wasn't buying stuff at Christmas. Then, when the season started, I began reading through a devotional book called "Christ in the Carols" where I'd read a carol a day and the subsequent reflection. I was stunned at how much I gained theologically by simply reading the words to the carols I know and love so well. Then, I also began reading a book called "Child in the Manger" which has been a mind-blowing read for me and has opened to be countless layers of the Christmas story that I've never considered. I have felt my heart opened in worship as Christ has been welcomed into it, humble manger of sorts that it is. Filled with the still-lingering depths of sin, I still feel myself beholding the glory of God. I feel my heart being broken into praise with the angels and, somehow, God is drawing nearer. 
 And I see here that this is how we can change how the world sees Christmas. Not by joining in all its commercialism, nor even by boycotting it altogether. Actually, we can change it by slowing down and looking for Christ in it once again. Of course, Jesus is not wholly lost from it - many sincere believers still hold the true "reason for the season" dear. Yet I think that we've lost our notice of the miraculousness of this incredible event and why it forever altered human history and eternal destiny. When Christmas is seen in light of the cross, when we view Jesus as more than just a baby and instead as the Lord of Heaven who humbled Himself for our sakes, then it all changes. You re-gain your awe. You are lost in wonder, love, and praise. You feel compelled to break into worship with the shepherds. To rejoice in all things holy and divine laid aside for redemption's sake. The hymn-writer Charles Wesley said it well: 
"Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth."
 For unto us this Savior was born - unto us weak ones, broken ones, sinful ones this Jesus has been given. And because He eventually bore the cross for our sakes, we can call Him "...Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6-7).  He became poor for our sakes so that we would become rich. He gave up His royal place so that He could walk among us, identify with us, be Himself for us. When you realize what love drove Him to do, you can't wait to celebrate what an incredible God He is. You see Christmas as His celebration. It isn't for the industries, or the pundits, or the the worldly. Christmas is a holiday for God's people. And we ought to change how people see it because we have the spirit of Christmas - Jesus Himself - inside of us every single day of the year. 
 So deck the halls, be merry and full of cheer. Hug the ones you love and take in the special miracle-moments that make up this time of year. Enjoy your traditions, but in all of that - remember that Christ is the fountain from whom all blessings flow. So let there be joy to the world - the Lord has come! 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"The Light never comes how you expect it. It comes as unlikely and unexpected - straight into Bethlehem unlikely and the feeding trough hopeless, and Christmas whispers there is always hope. It doesn't matter how dark the dark is; a light can still dawn. It doesn't matter if the world whispers, 'There's not a hint that help will come from elsewhere,' telling us that nothing will ever improve, get better, change. God favors the darkest places so you can see His light the brightest. And once the light of Christ shatters your dark, shadows forever fleeing your shadowlands. There's no going back and living in the dark; you live in the impenetrable, safe Light of light, and Christmas never ends for you. A Christian never stops living Christmas. True, you cannot light Christmas - because it's Christmas that lights you."
          - Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

" The miracle of never not happening.When your Father's hand isn't readily apparent, it's only because He's readying gifts. Gifts always come out of the unseen and hidden places. It's a miracle itself - how you don't have to order a Christmas miracle. The miracle of Love is happening all around you. Christ coming freely, willingly, now - coming unseen into everything." 
                   - Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"Lo, within a manger lies
He who built the starry skies,
He who, throned in height sublime,
Sits amid the cherubim.

Sacred Infant, all divine,
What a tender love was Thine,
Thus to come from highest bliss
Down to such a world as this."
- Edward Caswall 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"When the King rules your world, you cease to rule or worry. All worry dethrones God. All worrying makes your King and God incompetent. There is a King born in Bethlehem and on the throne. You can breathe."
               - Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"God gives God. He withholds no good thing from you. And the good things are not so much about health, but holiness; not so much riches in this world, but relationship with God; not so much about our plans, but His presence - and He withholds no good things from us because the greatest things aren't ever things."
           - Ann Voskamp The Greatest Gift

Thursday, December 7, 2017

What I Really Want This Christmas

 I sat on a log and shifted my feet in the sand. It had been 22 years since I'd last visited this place. It held fun childhood memories for me, although my retention of those memories, apart from photos, was a bit limited. And that is why I wanted to go back. I wanted to feel like a kid again. I wanted to get in touch with something that adulthood has stuffed - pure joy. As one gets older, they begin to be consumed with a performance-driven culture, a forever rushing, chasing lifestyle that causes many to forfeit the most important things in life because they forget what really matters. And I've fallen for it. Over the past few years, work and responsibility have taken over. I've bought into the idea that fulfillment must be had at the expense of life abundant. And, somewhere along the way, I lost me. I lost the little girl that remembers running freely into the Pacific Ocean and spending the day playing on the sand over summer vacation. I lost the child in me that used to be fascinated by the smallest things. I lost my perspective. And now I came back to try to find it again. 
 As I listened to the waves crashing against the shore and took in the gorgeous sunset over the ocean, I felt the weight of years of "adulting" falling off my soul. The kid the had long remained dormant started to come alive. In the squawking of seagulls and the peacefulness of the quiet seaside evening, I realized that, what I really want for Christmas, for life in general, is a life that is lived well for Him. Lived only for Him. In my heart, I breathed the words, 

"More of You, less of me - 
Make me who I'm meant to be..."

When your life becomes less about the rat race that is accomplishment, success, doing more, and living less, you lose the beautiful things that make up this one chance we get at fulfilling our divine purpose of "glorifying God and enjoying Him forever." We begin to miss the evidences of His love. We begin to rush on past where He wants us to be now because we're only concerned with getting ahead. We become about doing when what the Christian life is based on is being. Resting in all things already accomplished for us. Spending all our days in praising the One by whom all things consist and exist. 
 As the shoppers rush around with their gifts, as the holiday craziness ensues, I'm left feeling as though I want something better. I long for something deeper, for something more than just presents, parties, and decorations. I'm left desiring memories made: cherishing the moments of watching Christmas movies at night with the family, or the little traditions that are uniquely ours - of decorating the tree and sharing the many stories that go along with the ornaments, or the music recordings that we only get to listen to once a year, (especially those awesome old vinyl records that I grew up hearing as a kid that still get played every Christmas). I'm left wanting worship - wanting this Christmas to be a reminder to me of when Heaven touched earth and a thousand angels sang, "Our God is here!" 
 God. With. Us. Those three words changed forever how humanity could live. Instead of life being about a remote relationship with God and Him being only accessible in a holy place of worship, God was now accessible within the human heart!! God was now here with us to dwell forever with those who believed in Him. God loved this hurting world enough to give up His regal splendor and clothe Himself in human flesh and offer Himself a living sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. Christmas isn't just about baby Jesus - it's the foreshadowing of the cross and all that it would mean. It's the acting upon God's promise to human history that the sin of Adam and Eve would not be the final story. That God wasn't done with his created world just yet. And that's why I want more. I don't want to miss a moment of what God wants to say in this the season of celebrating His birth. I don't want this to be "just another Christmas" this year but rather, I want my whole heart to sing "Glory in Highest!" all year long! I don't want the message to end on December 26th but instead, to compel me to living loved and living gratefully all year long
 And so, I headed back to my car from the beach and's going to be different this year. I'll still dig out all the ornaments, all the lights, all the traditions and things that speak Christmas...but I'm going for more this time: I'm going to welcome it with a full heart of joy, a soul that realizes that the Savior came for me and that every day I live is another opportunity to show to a dying world that this miracle that happened in Bethlehem is, indeed, the answer for all that ails us broken ones. Because that one silent night gave us hope that forever continues to change us, to make us into who we're meant to be. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"...Till God in human flesh I see,
My thoughts no comfort find;
The holy, just, and sacred Three
Are terrors to my mind.

But if Immanuel's face appear,
My hope, my joy begins;
His name forbids my slavish fear,
His grace removes my sins."
- Isaac Watts

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

"...How good has He been to me! How gently has He led me! How often has He restored me when wandering, revived me when fainting, healed my breaches, supplied my wants, heard my prayers, and set up a seasonable standard against my enemies when they have been coming in upon me like a flood! And even now He is with me, He is never weary of doing me good, and I believe He will be with me, even to the end, till at length He brings me home to His kingdom to be near Him forever. Hence, indeed, arises a great part of my grief, to think that I should be so cold, and barren, and unprofitable, under such amazing displays of undeserved love. O Lord, touch the rock, and cause the waters to flow; soften and inflame my heart, that I may at length become Thy disciple indeed."
            - John Newton

Monday, December 4, 2017

Christmas Quote of the Day

"Worry is belief gone wrong. Because you don't believe that God will get it right...In the thin air of Advent, you may not even know how to say it out loud: 'I thought it would be easier.' And your God comes near: I will provide a way.You may not even know who to tell: 'Thought it would be different.' And your God draws close: I will provide grace for the gaps. You may not even know how to find words for it: 'I thought it would be...more.' And your God reaches out: I will provide Me."
              - Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

"There is no harm in looking ahead, but it is unwise to try to carry next week's burdens today. There is nothing wrong in looking ahead, but needless worry in regard to the future, is not only useless but injurious - besides evidencing lack of implicit trust in our heavenly Father's care for His redeemed people. Worry looks tremblingly ahead, but never accelerates, and always hinders the speed in life's race. Yet many drag through life weighted with all sorts of needless cares and are never in their element unless looking for still more trouble. They are always watching for clouds, and are never content to bask in the sunshine." 
                   - J.C. Pittman 

In the bustle of the holiday season, don't miss the beautiful things right in front of you. Don't get so wrapped up in what you need to do that you forget the miracles God is performing on a daily basis. Don't waste your time looking for clouds... 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

"With respect to my own experience, I have little now to add to what I have formerly offered; at least, little variety: for, in one sense, every new day is filled with new things; - new mercies on the Lord's part, new ingratitude on mine; new instances of the vileness of my nature, and new proofs of the power of sovereign pardoning grace: - new hills of difficulty, new valleys of humiliation; - and now and then (though, alas! very short and seldom) new glimpses of what I would be and where I would be."
          - John Newton

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Taking A Break

 In the spirit of stepping back to take stock of our blessings, I am taking this opportunity to enjoy the Thanksgiving season with family and friends and will not be posting much, if at all, for the next couple weeks. I will, however, still be checking my Instagram and Twitter, so feel free to stay in touch with me there. While I love posting to this blog, there are times that I need to recharge and regain my perspective. I look forward to connecting with you all again in the near future. Have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving, and don't forget to count your blessings and keep living in grace and faith everyday! 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Another Year of Counting Thanks...

 Two Thanksgivings ago, I put up a post titled Counting The Thanks. In listing many of the ways I saw God at work that year, it propelled me into a further counting of thanks which continued all through last year. This year, I want to continue the list even further...listing blessings in 2017 that have reminded me of all the ways in which God loves and is forever good. As you read some of my God-moments this year, I'd encourage you to list your blessings, too. (Perhaps you'll even post a few of them here to share with my readers and I!)
As the gratitude keeps on spilling over, I will continue to trace the numerous grace-gifts which He endlessly bestows.

In 2017 I am thankful...

...for renewed health after struggling with some stress-related issues the last year or two. Finally getting to live with greater energy and strength has done a lot for me! He is indeed the great Physician!

...for the incredible gift of a new friend in my life named Rachel. God dropped her sweet soul into my world early on this year, and my life hasn't been the same since! Goodness, I love doing life with that girl! Hard to believe we've know each other so short a time...

...for the opportunity to celebrate my grandma's 90th birthday with her in person this year. Such a special visit for a couple of days, spending time together and celebrating her all she means to me. 

...for the thrill of getting to see my friend Conner as a professional baseball player and visit him at his home stadium in California after nearly two years of not seeing him. Also meeting his family for the first time and talking with them during the game. A short time spent but so heart-warming. 

...for some much-needed "adopted" auntie time with my little nephew and his parents. Two blessed visits of sharing, caring, and passing around the love and the laughs. So thankful family isn't just contained to those we're related to! 

...for a beautiful visit to the redwood forests in Muir Woods outside of San Francisco with friends I hadn't seen in ages. Nothing like a tranquil walk through the majestic trees, capped off by a fun picnic with the chipmunks. It truly doesn't take much to have an amazing time with those you care about.

...for a delightful Memorial Day visit with my friend and marine, Zerbin, and his sweet family. I was so touched by how they welcomed me into their gathering simply at his invitation on short-notice and made me feel right at home. So many laughs and fun memories made as we thanked God for those who have given their lives for this country. 

...for getting to see my friend Jon after close to three years as he made a quick business trip up to my area. A late night talk in the hotel lobby was so encouraging and neat!

...for my friends Cam, Staudy, Jackson, and Michael getting the opportunity to pursue their dreams of each being a professional baseball player. Can't wait to see where God takes these guys and their talents!

...for another summer of baseball memories made. Even though the challenges were many and the adversities numerous, God still showed up and did a big work. Knowing Mike became a Christian made it all so very worthwhile. 

...for our baseball head coach getting to present the Gospel to some young children at our kids camp. You just don't know what fruit those seeds might produce someday.

...for the blessing of getting to welcome my friend Jason to Alaska for the very first time. What a tremendous ten packed days of fun as we adventured in this beautiful part of God's  country up here! Seeing the change in him over that time made my heart happy. 

...for my friend Michael being brave enough to venture into the uncomfortable places of my life this summer, challenging me to be more, not to settle for an average walk with God, and making me feel valued and loved in a way that changed everything. Three conversations over the summer gave me the courage to be brave in ways I hadn't wanted to before. I'm better in so many ways because of him being in my life!

...for a wonderful chat with my friend Preston at the Alaska Baseball League All-Star game this summer. It touched my heart to hear that he was willing to give up a very lucrative professional offer in order to return to Alaska for a second time to play baseball with a group of Christian guys. God used him mightily in so many ways. Seeing that God's plan was more important to him than money was down-right inspiring. And I thanked God for that.

...for two of my girlfriends taking me to dinner on my birthday. Such a sweet time of fellowship, love, and plenty of laughs - including one at my expense when Lindsay dropped the hint to the restaurant that it was my birthday when I told her not to say (she says she genuinely forget) and I ended up with a sombrero on my head and the whole restaurant knew from the birthday song. Can't beat good times with special people.

...for my friend Phil getting married to the girl of his dreams just over a year after coming close to losing his own life. God is still in the business of working miracles! 

...for the fun surprise of my childhood friend Zack coming back into my life after fourteen years. Lots of catching up to do and yet, still so much in common after so long. What an unexpected blessing!

...for the gift of reconnecting with my friend Grant after nearly two years. So thankful to have him back in my world, still making me laugh with his fun texts. Hearing that chuckle over the phone never gets old! 

...for the gift of new life when several other lives ended in my world this year. Always a reminder that God makes all things beautiful, even the hard ones, in His time. 

...for my friend Collin being such an encouragement to me during a hard time of personal transition in my job and life in general. Hearing from another recovering approval addict who understood my struggles somehow made it easier to walk through the uncertainty of a new chapter God was calling me to.

...for God sparing my friend's daughter Ellie's life when a wave began to carry her out to sea. God's protection is something none of us can take for granted - nor the brief lives we live on this earth. 

...for my amazing boss who continues to blow my mind with his balance of people relations and business, always pushing me to step out in faith from my comfort zone and yet to never leave people behind in your quest for success. 

...for the gift of faith. I've come to see the meaning of that one powerful little world so much this year, and I've come to learn how to employ it as my hope against fear. 

...for the simple truth that "Christ is all-sufficient." That His grace is enough for all that is required. I never have to worry if I am following what He asks of me.

My list keeps on going...and going...and going. The thanks keeps on pouring out, flowing over - because goodness and mercy have followed all these days with hope and promise. I'd recommend that, between now and Thanksgiving, that you make your own list of blessings (big and small) and remind yourself of just how many gifts He's given. It just might surprise you how much God has done for you in 2017! 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Though He put forth His hand, and seem to threaten our dearest comforts, yet when we remember that it is His hand, when we consider that it is His design, His love, His wisdom, and His power, we cannot refuse to trust Him."
                   - John Newton 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Indeed, it is not amiss that you should now and then meet with a balk, that you may learn, if possible, not to count too much on what tomorrow may do for you; and that you may begin to feel the impossibility of being happy any further than your will is brought into submission to the will of God. In order to this, you must have your own will frequently crossed; and things do and will turn out, almost daily in one way or other, contrary to our wishes and expectations. Then some people fret and fume, are angry and impatient; but others, who are in the Lord's school, and desirous of being taught by Him, get good by these things, and sometimes find more pleasure in yielding to His appointment, though contrary to their own wills, than they would have done if all had happened just to their wish."
                  - John Newton 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Our King could so easily reveal everything to us and make everything so clear! It would be nothing to Him to tell us all our questions. When He does not, cannot we trust Him and just be satisfied that He knows and would tell us if it were best? He has many things to say unto us, but He waits till we can bear them. May we be glad that even our sins are not hid from Him? Yes, surely, for He who knows all can and will cleanse all. He has searched us and known us, as we should shrink from knowing ourselves, and yet He has pardoned, and yet He loves." 
                 - Frances Ridley Havergal

Monday, November 13, 2017

Quote of the Day

"O soul, are you not ashamed that you ever doubted the love that brought you here? Are you not ashamed of your hard thoughts of God and His providences, repining the ways that have led to such an end? Are you not sufficiently convinced that the ways you called hard and the cup you called bitter were necessary? The Lord had a sweeter purpose and meant better than you would believe. Your Redeemer was saving you as much when He crossed your desires as when He granted them, and He was saving you when He broke your heart as much as when He bound it up. No thanks to you, unworthy self, for this received crown, but to Jehovah and the Lamb be glory forever!"
                 - Richard Baxter

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Our trials are either salutary medicines, or honorable appointments, to put us in such circumstances as may best qualify us to show forth His praise. Usually He has both these ends in view; we always stand in need of correction; and, when He enables us to suffer with patience, we are then happy witnesses to others of the truth of His promises, and the power of His grace in us. For nothing but the influence of God's good Spirit can keep us, at such times, either from despondency or impatience. If left to ourselves in trouble, we shall either sink down into sullen grief, or toss and rebel like a wild bull in a net."
                   - John Newton

Friday, November 10, 2017

Called To Do Hard

 Hard things. Life is made up of them. Many of them, in fact. We know this to be a part of our human existence and yet, somehow we run. We hide. And we think we can avoid them. Grow without them. It's taken me years to accept this, but I'm starting to realize there is no other way. Hard things are my path - your path - to what really matters. Honestly, they are the Savior's path to the most important lessons we can ever learn. 
 I spent the past couple of days thinking about this...tracing this path of hardship through the Bible and finding a pattern for why suffering matters. Why the opening of the heart through trouble is a necessary part of life's journey. And I found a thread running through it all - hard things proceed great outcomes. God often takes people through big tests of will, faith, and nerve prior to doing something huge in and through their life. 
 Take Abraham for example...among the many hard things God asked him to do in the course of His life, the hardest by far was to sacrifice his only son. If you read the story in Genesis 22, you find a man who is pushed to the absolute limit of his trust in God: to kill his young son, through which so much blessing had been promised, as an offering to God at God's request. And yet, you see Abraham's faith in that He never asked God "why?" I'm sure he probably wondered initially if he'd heard God right when God asked him to do such a thing, but He still said "yes" to God's will...even if he didn't understand. Obviously, God provided a different answer when He saw Abraham's willingness to obey, but that hard thing was the testing point by which God determined his faithfulness: "...for now I know that you fear God...(Gen. 22:12)." 
 As you continue through the Bible, we notice Joseph - how he had to be sold into slavery so that he could be down in Egypt when the famine hit Israel and could one day save his family from it. He had to go through hard things before He could receive God's blessing for himself and His family (Gen. 37-50). 
 We see Gideon when God asked him to go and fight the invading Midianites - how God told him to choose his army carefully and that He asked all the soldier wannabes to do a hard thing before they could be accepted into the elite fighting force. That Gideon would know who he was to choose by the way in which they drank water. God whittled down his fighting force from 32,000 to 300. And God did a mighty victory because 300 men were willing to do the hard thing (Judges 7). 
 We see God allowing Job to lose everything - family, possessions, health - so that God might see his devotion to the Lord. 
 On and on the stories go...until we arrive at the ultimate example: God the Father asking His Son Jesus Christ to go to the cross on behalf of sinful mankind in order that He might provide a way of redemption. Jesus didn't want to be crucified - He didn't go singing to the cross and happily accept His destiny. Rather, He pleaded with His heavenly Father to take away the cup being given to Him. with all of these examples beforehand...He went willingly. He offered Himself to the Father's will and said "yes." 
 All of these examples make it clear to us that we are called to do hard things. We cannot avoid them and still become who we're meant to be. There is no other way. God lays this out as the path of true transformation. Of learning to submit to the will of God no matter what. Sometimes we fight the hard things God is putting in front of us - we look for a way out...a way of escape...when what God's really after is the yielding of our hearts. 
 His ways are hard to trace sometimes. There are moments when it seems as though He's completely lost it and has no care for us. we step out after Him in faith anyway? God won't always show you the "whys" of your life. But He will show you the "Who" in your life - is it yourself? Your own way? Or is it God and His way? Selfish ambition rarely is exposed more clearly than when our backs are up agains the wall and we don't see a way around the hard things in front of us. At that point, we are faced with a choice as to who we will believe - our own judgement or God. 
 I don't know what hard thing you might be facing - it could be that you're stuck in a job that you hate and there's no change in sight; maybe its a crushed dream that you thought was within reach and now lies dashed on the floor of reality; perhaps its learning to get along with a boss that you dislike, or dealing with the disappointment of being passed over for a promotion and being forced to work in a lower level than you wanted. Maybe its getting up the courage to have a tough conversation with somebody about a personal matter that should've been addressed a long time ago. It could be an injury or medical issue that has sidelined you from your normal job/activity level, and you face a long recovery. It could even be a terminal diagnosis...
 Whatever your "hard thing" is - know this: that "our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles (2 Cor. 4:17)." The whole purpose of God's allowing hard things to happen to us is to refine, transform, and redeem us for something greater than the disappointment, the sadness, the frustration we now feel. What we lose now is nothing compared to what we will gain later...and God knows we cannot acquire what He wants us to learn any other way. We must walk through these things. But, our assurance lies in that He has promised we will never walk through them alone. That He is always with us and that He Himself knows the reward of walking through the hard. When you're to the end of your rope and you thing you can't face another setback, another challenge, another disappointment...remember that others have trod this path too...including your Savior. Keep choosing brave and stepping out in faith...even when you don't see the outcome. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

"It is fitting for Christians to bless God in the saddest condition that can befall them. Faith finds mercy in the greatest affliction and in the saddest mixture of providence. Praise God for past mercies and it will not be long before you have a new song in your mouth for the present mercy."
                    - William Gurnall in Voices From the Past

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Making Sense of the Senseless

 The headlines have been imprinted on our minds in recent weeks...senseless acts of cold-hearted violence that have ripped apart families, communities, and countless lives. Acts that have shocked our country and made us sit back with aching hearts and wonder, how could this have happened? Why did we get this way? More importantly, where was God? 
 From Las Vegas to New York and now to San Antonio, the horrifying events have left us reeling and looking for answers. Answers only to be found in the heart of God. 
 When I was younger, I used to ask "why" a lot - why do people behave as they do? why does a loving God allow such horrible things to happen? where is God in our worst moments? I had a faith that could only take me so far when it came to explaining suffering. I know I'm not alone in such questioning. Particularly at a time such as this when our nation is gripped by mourning for these recent tragedies. How does one make sense of the senseless? 
 My perspective began to change a few years back when two things happened in my life that changed how I look at life's worst moments: 1) when I had to suffer myself, and 2) when I was introduced to the truth of God's sovereignty and providential Hand. 
 When one has suffered themselves, they are not so quick to question "why" because they begin to realize that adversity happens to all of us. It is a by-product of living in a sinful, fallen world - nobody escapes its reality. Even though we may attempt to avoid it, run from it, hide from always manages to find us. And yet, in a startling conclusion, we also discover that it has the potential to make us better. It changes who we are and how we view ourselves and what we believe. What we learn from suffering causes us to see life's worst moments as opportunities - however painful - to grow and transform into the person we're meant to become. 
 When we also realize that a sovereign and just God still rules even in the worst of times, it somehow lessens the pain of the blows life gives us. God is not the cause of all things wrong, unjust, hard, sad, or hurtful but He allows these realities to occur in our broken world so that we may see truth for what it is. That we may know what really matters, what really lasts. That we may hope for what we do not see when everything around us tells us to despair. Understanding that God orchestrates events and situations for the sole purpose of bringing broken hearts to Himself and glorifying His name, allows the hurting soul to take refuge in a truth that transcends this dying world. While God has left much of His beauty in this earth, even that is fractured by the sin-sick identity we bear from our first parents so long ago in Adam and Eve. When you see so much wrong in our world, think of this: how much worse would this world be without a redemption-plan in existence through the Lord Jesus?! Sometimes we get so focused on trying to find answers to our problems that we forget the One who sits on His throne, guiding all things for the fulfillment of His will. We ask God if He cares, if He's still out there. Truth is, God never abandoned us - it was us who abandoned God. And God's been chasing our hearts ever since, sometimes using even the painful stories of our lives to call us back to what is sure, lasting, and true. Wooing us back into His grace and His forgiving love. 
 Knowing these things hasn't fixed everything for me. I still fear greatly when my comfortable life gets shattered by the unpredictable. I still mourn for the sad things that happen to either myself or to others. I still feel all the emotions that being a human being includes. But even when my head has yet to agree with God's plan, my heart is allowed, by faith, to bend the knee and surrender to Him, whose plan always and forever trumps mine. The way you make sense of the senseless is to make God your refuge. To attempt to see things as He does. To believe even when His ways don't seem to be readily understandable. It all comes down to trust. Do you continue to trust in the unchangeable goodness of God when all around you things are falling apart? Do you dare to keep opening your two yielded hands in faith when your soul tells you to fear the worst? Do you leave everything in His capable control when nothing around you adds up? 
 Most of the journey to grace is about resting in the unseen. Much of what goes on in this crazy world will not be explained in full until we are all judged in eternity for our actions. But there are glimpses of hope even in the darkest hours. God never leaves or forsakes us. God has never stopped being in charge. He's still there and always will be. He's still moving even when we can't see it. Sometimes you simply have to leave it with Him and walk away in faith. And look for the little evidences of His love in which He shows up in the tragedy and reminds us that redemption is His work. That, in time, even the worst things shall be made beautiful. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Don't Miss The Beautiful Things!

 Don't miss the beautiful things right in front of you today because you're so busy chasing things that don't matter in the long run! Thousands of little gift-moments are waiting in front of you that, if you slow down and notice, will change you into a spirit of thankfulness and surrender! You will see so many amazing miracles and God-moments if you ask God to give you eyes to see...

"I don't want to miss it
I don't want to look back someday and find
Everything that really mattered
Was right in front of me this whole time.
Open up my eyes, Lord,
Keep me in the moment just like this
Before the beautiful things we love
Become the beautiful things we miss."

Monday, November 6, 2017

Emergency State of Mind

 How do you live your one life like it isn't a state of constant emergency? How do you go through your days not giving into that human impulse that says you're in a continuous cycle of emotional 9-1-1 status? 
 Think about it, friend - for all the times you've been hurt, for all the times that suffering has hit you unexpectedly, for all the moments you've been led to doubt the goodness of God, for all the hours you've spent seeing through the eyes of your fears and neglected your faith - all these can begin to cause one to live in an unsettled way. And we then spend time rushing around to make up for what we've lost, or trying to get ahead before we run out of time, or just plain running - from God, from others, from living loved. 
 Life because about nothing more than just doing. We never just are. Have you ever thought of the fact that God created us as human "beings" rather than human "doings?"
We've made this whole journey about performing when existing is our goal. When all God really wants from us is to "glorify Him and enjoy Him forever," we've made it about money, time, sex, accomplishment, and so much else when what God's really after is our enjoyment of Him and our fulfillment of the Gospel-way. 
 Oh, friend! We have much to repent of - this frenetic way of living! Because it isn't really true living after all. We've sacrificed our true purpose on the altar of self-fulfillment and desire, leaving our first Love for the lesser things. We've taken things that are merely gifts to enjoy from God Himself and turned them into counterfeit gods that steal the glory which is rightly His. We have placed other things on the throne of our souls and, for that, we must be ashamed. 
 To answer how you live your life like it isn't an emergency - you live your one life in worship! You praise through your days. Because you only have a limited number of breaths in you. You only have a certain unknown amount of days that only God has control of. And why waste it by chasing frantically after what only leaves us empty? 
 After all, as precious a blessing as each of these things are, they really don't belong to us anyway. They are merely on loan to us because we can't take any of them with us. If we were honestly stripped of everything we had and left only with what mattered...could it, would it, be enough? Because isn't He enough? 
 As the holidays approach, as the speed of our world ever's time we took a step back and evaluated how we "do life" His way. Perhaps, if we began to not live life like the next shoe will drop at any second - if we started taking time to thank as our first reaction instead of fear - if we so ordered our lives as to run on His timing instead of our own - just maybe we could lengthen time a bit. Our numbered days still remain the same but our approach to how we use them would change. Just maybe our money, our personal goals, our relationships, our time would be spent in pursuit of deeper knowledge of God and the advancement of His will instead of the break-neck pace of always reaching but always failing at what is most important. 
 Christian author Francis Chan points out that the thing he most fears is, "succeeding at things that don't matter." I think we could all stand to take a hard look at how we live and ask ourselves if we're succeeding at what's relevant in the world's eyes but failing at what matters most.